This is my account of when I attended 2 Takarazuka performances in May 2000 during my first trip to Japan. Although I have many fond memories of that 2-week visit, watching Takarazuka turned out to be the highlight. (^_^)
My mom and I planned our trip completely; we didn't go on any tours or the like because I was interested in a lot of various things (such as visiting historic sites of the Shinsengumi samurai group and hitting a bunch of anime/manga stores). We planned Takarazuka for May 5th, 3 days into our trip.
I had searched on the Web for websites about the Revue but the search engines sadly came up quite lacking. However, I was able to find the official webpage and saw which shows were being performed at the time, and a few English pages with the telephone number for ticket reservations. Gathering up my courage (and scribbling a paper-full of Japanese words I thought might be necessary) I called.
The phone was busy for quite some time. I would call, and call again. Finally, the phone rang and I heard a lady's voice. I asked if she spoke English, and she replied "yes". I proceeded to make the reservation for my mom and myself.
On May 5th we woke up early. Unsure of how long it would take to get from Kyoto to Takarazuka and then locate the theatre, we wanted to get going as early as possible. I had a map of the rail lines, and a map of the city which I had printed from the Internet, but neither was very detailed. Fortunately, switching trains in Osaka from the JR line to the Hankyu line was effortless, thanks to the clear signs. The two stations are connected by a walkway.
The line goes straight from Osaka to Takarazuka, so we enjoyed the ride. There are ads in every train; this one had a picture for an upcoming Takarazuka peformance. I wondered what it would be like to watch one.
Upon disembarking we started in the direction of the theatre.... we had to stop at a cafe and ask which way it was, but soon we excitedly arrived at the entrance. The outside is quite pretty with green ivy growing on the structures. My mom and I proceeded to the ticket counter and gave our reservation number.
With tickets in hand we entered the building. There are some shops and a cafeteria-like restaurant inside before you reach the entry to the actual theatre. We had arrived earlier than we expected (about 2 hours!) so we browsed though the Revue shop that sells an assortment of food, candy, and sweets. I picked out a cylindrical tin containing senbei (Japanese crackers - these are the wafer variety that have cream sandwiched inside), a bag of violet candies (the official Takarazuka flower), and an Asaki Yume Mishi flower cake.
Next we decided to have lunch at the restaurant. It's a lovely little place with a delightful atmosphere. There's a big display of colorful silk flowers, and we enjoyed the meal immensely. It was the first time I sampled zaru-soba, a cold buckwheat noodle dish served with seaweed flakes and green onions. It's one of my favorite foods now! My mom and I split a fruit, red bean, and agar jelly dessert. The food was really delicious, and I liked the idea of supporting the arts at the same time. (^_~)
We entered the theatre lobby and saw 2 elaborate costumes on display before the large curved stairs. Japanese girls were snapping photos next to the clothes worn by 2 of the actresses. I wished I'd brought my camera. I purchased a program and we went in. The theatre is large and spacious, with a walkway that comes out in front of the orchestra pit. The stars walk out on this, which is right up against where the first row of seats begin. I've read that fan club members will come early and sleep ovenight to get these coveted tickets the day they go on sale.
My mom and I read through the English synopsis of the story.... I must admit I was a bit hesitant about it. Asaki Yume Mishi follows the tale of Hikaru Genji, who I soon gathered was a quite promiscuous man. (^_^;) I wondered if this story was just about a man who did bad things and lived an unhappy life because of them. I didn't know how I would like the main character. "Oh well," I figured. "At least this'll be interesting to see what Takarazuka is like." I'd been curious about it ever since I first read about it in 1999.
The lights dimmed and went down and the music began. The curtain rose. From the first line of Hikaru Genji, played by Aika Mire, I was hooked. What a gorgeous voice. "I like this Hikaru Genji", I thought to myself, smiling helplessly. "He's so cool." I didn't know what he was speaking about, but that didn't matter at all. It didn't matter what I had read in the program about his numerous relationships - I sort of forgot about it. The warm way that he talked and the sound of his voice was everything. I listened, enraptured by his every word.
Now, you must know that coming from me this is saying a lot. I have watched countless excellent musicals, and have I definite opinions about extra-marital relationships. (^_~) And still Hikaru Genji enveloped me in the lush and romantic word of ancient Japan.
Mire's voice is low and deep and smooth. Her movements are gentle and flowing, while projecting a confidence and sensitivity. She looked so awesome in the Japanese court attire. She moved across the stage gracefully in billowing layered clothing in all colors of the rainbow.
But then she started singing, and I could not have been more amazed. Mire has one of the greatest voices I've heard in my life. There is an extrordinary quality about it. She has these slides. It's not a verbratto, but a silky-smooth sliding of the notes. Listening to her was just shiawase - that's the Japanese word for happiness. Sometimes I find myself thinking in Japanese words, and shiawase fit that moment perfectly.
Act after act, song after song.... I was competely enthralled with the performance. Takumi Hibiki, playing the part of Tou-no-Chuujo, Genji's best friend and rival, was also stunning. Her voice is beautiful and her acting captivating, while not overshadowing that of Mire. Exactly as a secondary star should be. Ootori Rei played the roles of both the lead female character, Murasaki-no-ue, and Fujitsubo, the wife of Genji's father. She is also a talented actress and I was particularly amazed at how effortless it looked as she walked across the stage and even down the giant staircase in her costumes. Long ago, women in the court wore wide, loose pants called hakama, which were so long that they would have to walk on top of the ends. Can you imagine walking with your pants folded down under your feet and trailing behind you because they are far longer than the length of your legs? Rei must have practiced hard to pull this off without tripping once!
One of the scenes that stands out in my mind is that in which Hikaru Genji receives a message: Tou-no-Chuujo's son has secretly been visiting his wife, San-no-miya, and she has conceived his child. Genji is furious, and sings a firey song with deep emotion. The scene has stuck in my mind because the song was so moving, portraying the passionate anger he feels. Mire's acting was so intense. She is truly gifted.
I also loved the duet that Genji and Tou-no-Chuujo sing early on in the musical. While they practice archery, the song expresses the camaraderie they feel for each other. They are rivals, but at the same time the very closest of friends. They clasp each other's hand in friendship, grinning like anything. It's a really cheery and enjoyable song.
The ensemble numbers are also memorable. The chorus play the townspeople and also perform an unexpected dance in a combination of colored light and darkness, an always-moving, constantly-changing melee.
When the tale drew to an end, Hikaru Genji ascended the silvery stairs up to Murasaki-no-ue amongst breathtaking instrumentals from the orchestra. I clapped as loudly as I could.
As soon as the lights came back up crowds of the audience hurried out of the theatre. I wondered why they were in such a rush... to see the actresses? But that didn't seem to make sense. I was still enthralled by the performance and sat for a while in my seat, looking at the program, trying to memorize the feel and look of the theatre, talking with my mom. She was equally impressed by the talent we had just seen.
Many people were still sitting in their seats. We found that a bit puzzling, but I showed my mom that there was a whole second part mentioned in the program - a show called The Beauties!. It seemed we were supposed to see it as well. A whole other show? We wondered if that could be possible after this complete production. It seemed people weren't leaving, though, so we went out to see where everyone else went.
People were milling about eating snacks or buying collectibles from a little booth. Everyone had raced out to eat! My mom reflected that this was something we never saw in the U.S. We bought some pastries at the booth and a juice from a vending machine. I wanted a phonecard, but the Asaki Yume Mishi card was already sold out.
Indeed, we were in for a second treat after this intermission!
The lights went down again and I settled into my seat happily, ready to thoroughly enjoy the next show. The entire members of the Hana-gumi (Flower Troupe) opened with a marvelous number featuring the theme song, The Beauties!. Catchy and colorful, I was really pleased with the start.... and there was much more to come!
Next, scenes in a wine bar and then jazz numbers telling a love story through dance and expression. The next 6 numbers used a surprising theme of rock stars wearing animal-like costumes in a jungle setting! Even through the strangeness of it, the confidence of the actors shone - it was only almost humorous; they were able to pull it off without it being embarassing.
Later Haruno Sumire sang a Japanese-translated version of "You Are My Lucky Star" which comes from the musical "Singin' in the Rain". Dressed in a stunning blue suit, her sweet, deep voice mesmerized me. While listening to her I couldn't think of anything else, except that she was so amazing.... if this were sung to you as I heard it that day I'm sure you would melt.
As she finished her number, the debuting class of 40 new members of Takarazuka performed a chorus line dance. Decked out in pink feathered outfits, the girls did a marvelous job of staying synchronized.
Finally the grand finale: all members cascading down the wide staircase to a medley of vibrant music, including a reprise of The Beauties!. The stars came out on the walkway for bows, each holding a bouquet. The stars were all bedecked in feathers. The bigger the star, the larger the feathers, and the top stars were dressed in sequined tuxedo or gown. The curtain went down to thunderous applause.
The lobby contains glossy paper advertisments for the other currently running or soon-to-begin performances which you can pick up for free. I collected one or more of each (taking a handful of the Asaki Yume Mishi ones) for souvenirs.
After the performance, so impressed was I that I went into the official store called Quatre Reves, which is connected the the theatre. It's a myriad of videos, CDs, books, magazines, posters, cards, and other collectible merchandise to satisfy excited fans. I spent a long time looking around; so long, in fact, that they were going to be closing so I had to scramble to gather up the items I wanted to purchase.
Contentedly walking back to the train station, my mom and I stopped at a small bookshop and picked up a magazine wih Mire as Hikaru Genji on the cover. I was so happy with how the day had gone. In a train station on the way back to Kyoto we saw a large advertisement for Visa cards.... featuring a big photo of Mire! Yep, she's so popular that she advertises credit cards.
All during the trip I couldn't get Asaki Yume Mishi and Mire out of my head. I felt a little like the character Maya in the manga, anime, and TV drama series Glass no Kamen (Mask of Glass). At the beginning of the story she works extremely hard delivering ramen dishes in order to earn a ticket to a play - she's never been to one before. When the performance is over and the audience has gone home Maya is still sitting in her seat, just thinking and thinking of it. An usher has to awaken her from being so absorbed so that the theatre can close. Although my reverie was not quite so deep as that, I couldn't help smiling every time I thought of Mire, how splendid Takarazuka was. Even now, Mire makes my eyes smile.
For a brief moment I admit I wondered.... this couldn't be a crush, could it? But thinking about it for a few seconds, I concluded that, no, this was not koi (romantic love) nor ai (deep love). This was definitely akogare (admiration). Mire is so gifted that I really admire and look up to her. I've taken voice lessons and enjoy singing, and I used to do dance, so I can really appreciate her abilities!
Finally, about a week later I decided - I absoutely wanted to go to Takarazuka again! I had brough the phone number and directions for the 1000 days theatre in Tokyo just in case. =) I knew the shows at this theatre were being performed by the Tsuki-gumi (Moon Troupe): the musical LUNA and the revue BLUE MOON BLUE. I phoned and phoned whever I thought of it for 3 days. Either the theatre wasn't open yet for the day or the line was busy. I began to feel hope was running out. There was only a few days left during my trip, and seats would likely be sold-out seeing as the line was so busy. I needed seats at a performance within a couple of days....
When I got to Tokyo I figured I'd walk to the theatre. 3 days before flying home, my mom and I took the JR line to the Yurakucho stop. Around the block was the theatre, and seats were available for the next day! We bought our tickets. I looked at the poster for LUNA, a sci-fi fantasy. In my opinion it appeared a tad weird from the picture. Obviously nothing like the traditional Asaki Yume Mishi. But I didn't really mind; I was getting to see Takarazuka again!